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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The Watergate Consumer Packages

WASHINGTON–Watergate-mired Richard Nixon is all but willing to sell the White House to big business to maintain the support of the large corporations.

Earlier this month his operatives moved to make cancer, respiratory diseases and other pollution sicknesses hostage to his Watergate troubles. Over the strong objections of Environmental Protection Administrator, Russell E. Train, Mr. Nixon plans to send proposals to Congress that would virtually scuttle the air pollution and environmental impact laws. Both laws are designed to save lives and prevent diseases but industry wants them nullified.

Now Roy Ash, former Litton Industries chief and presently the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, is working with his boss in the White House to crush the consumer protection agency (CPA) bill now winding through Congress to give consumers a strong voice in Washington. Congressional support for this bill is strengthening in these times of rapid inflation, fake energy shortages and angry consumers. So the White House is soft-peddling its former blatant opposition in favor of chipping away at the CPA at every possible stage from the House and Senate Committees to the floor votes to the House-Senate Conference meeting.

The Nixon-Ash strategy is being tutored and supported by the national Chamber of Commerce, the Grocery Manufacturers of America and dozens of other giant corporations and trade groups. For four years this group has blocked the CPA bill or so weakened it that consumer advocates have refused to support its remnants. Informally known as the “Madison Group”, this clique of big business representatives earned the moniker after a clandestine meeting to forge a joint opposition in the Madison Hotel two years ago.

The men identified with this “Madison Group” effort are Donald Kendall, head of Pepsi-Cola and a close friend of Mr. Nixon; Donald Goodall of American Cyanamid; Richard Darling of J. C. Penny; Wayne Smithey of Ford Motor Co.; Al Borland of General Motors; W. Pickett of General Electric and the omnipresent Bryce Harlow who shuttles back and forth from Proctor & Gamble and the White House where he is a key Nixon aide.

Some of these men operate almost like a drill team on Capitol Hill. They parcel out which members of the House and the Senate they are to visit and pressure. Senior members are seen by a relay team followed or preceded by letters, telegrams and phone calls from companies in their districts or states. Jack Brooks (Dem.Texas), second ranking on the House Government Operations Committee has been visited several times but the man with the last active spittoon in Congress still supports the CPA.

Why is industry so vehemently opposed to this consumer bill? Because the CPA provides consumers with skilled legal, scientific, medical, engineering, economic and accounting advocates who would challenge, expose or take to court all the numerous regulatory agencies that are dominated by industry to ignore the rights of consumers to fair, safe, competitive goods and services. The proposed consumer agency would be small; it would not regulate anything, which is one reason why it could be such a powerful advocate.

For example, Mr. Simon, who has been Simonizing America with slick, shiny rhetoric while pushing relentlessly the upward surge of gasoline and fuel prices as his solution for the so-called energy shortages, would have to face the determined challenges of consumer lawyers and economists. Simon’s agency is so thick with former oil executives (at least 52) in policymaking positions that without a CPA the oil industry and ex-investment banker Simon will continue to pave the way for massive petroleum profits and consumer gouges.

The CPA would be a catalyst and focus for the entire consumer movement just as the vastly bigger Departments of Agriculture and Commerce are for agribusiness and industry and commerce. Decisions about food and drug standards, meat and poultry inspection, price controls, auto, tire, bus, rail and aviation safety, flammable fabrics, household product safety and many other important concerns of Americans will be monitored and prodded by the CPA to be more pro-consumer.

When corporations get richer and consumers get poorer (in their purchasing power) the economy cannot be considered healthy no matter what the real rise in gross national product may be. When environmental diseases can be prevented and are not, the sickness of Watergate causes the sickness of many innocent people who are hostage to Mr. Nixon’s desperate currying of favor with the captains of big industry.

Members of Congress are shaping up behind the consumer bill because they are hearing from their consumers back home. One letter, call or postcard is estimated on Capitol Hill to be reflective of at least 10 other people who believe the same thing but didn’t write. The CPA bill will be coming to the floor of the Senate and House in the next few weeks. Let your Senator and Representative send you a copy of the CPA bill and find some time to send them a message.